Let national interest override all other mean considerations. This will be the true win-win formula
The pressure for electoral reform that seems to peak when a government is nearing the end of its mandate and talk of the next elections is in the air is something that we have seen happening quite regularly. At the beginning of a mandate the issue is flagged and then forgotten, to be revived again as mentioned. The timing is interesting, because it is a means or a ploy to try and force an arrangement between an opposition party that has apprehensions about going alone – although it may publicly be in denial mode – and what it perceives to be a vulnerable party in power, the government the latter is running deemed to be in a weakened position.
Currently that opposition party is the MMM; indeed electoral reform has in the main been the agenda of the MMM. Ever since the beginning, and more so since the body blow of its 7th successive debacle in a row at the polls (the last one being in No.18 constituency last December) along with the internal confrontations and the resignations, it has claimed that the First-Past-The-Post system is unfair and does not give a defeated party its proportionate number of parliamentarians based on the electoral vote share. Hence its reason for seeking a reform so as to introduce a dose of proportional representation to correct this ‘anomaly’.
From the time that this concept was articulated in the late 1950s this paper has argued against it being factored into our political system, and many articles have been published since then defending this position. In their wisdom the founding pioneers of our nation made a reasoned choice in favour of the FPTP mode based on the Westminsterian model of Parliamentary democracy. We are a small country, and cannot afford to have the kind of instability that has plagued countries where PR prevails, e.g. Italy, Israel: they can cope by virtue of their size because of their innate strengths on the industrial, social and institutional planes that we have no equivalent for. For Mauritius therefore, FPTP must remain firmly anchored. Simply, NO PR.
Besides, we have the lesson from Rodrigues which we do not want to be repeated here and that we must be wary about: PR altered the power equation by diminishing considerably the numerical strength of the team that was voted in at the polls. In effect therefore what it did was to alter the political balance that had been expressed at the polls at the expense of the winning party.
Further, as for the idea of Party List there is as yet no clarity as to exactly how it will shape out to be. Whatever be, it sounds retrograde and arbitrary, and unfair as well as should the leader of a party lose, will he decide to nominate himself – thereby giving himself a second chance — despite being beaten at the polls? This would be clearly a betrayal of the popular will that is the hallmark of a true democracy.
On the other hand, enhancing political representation as part of PR through an increase in the number of parliamentarians is going to lead to more expense: shouldn’t we be doing our utmost to reduce this at a time when our debt commitment is touching Rs 300 billion?
Need we recall that the electorate, ‘le peuple admirable’, was astute enough to see through the ploy of the LP-MMM Alliance of December 2014, and gave it an admonition. It is not to be ruled out that the people will be equally sharp enough to detect any sign of a give-in to PR by the MSM for the sake of personal interests, and will react accordingly, especially as that will contradict the historical position of its founder-leader SAJ.
In short, electoral reform is about party agenda and not national interest, which is what in our humble opinion government must single-pointedly focus on at all times. This is vital for the current regime because of the short time remaining to completion of its mandate. It must not therefore allow itself to be bought in by the tactics of its adversary and concentrate on getting things done, but also communicate efficiently on a number of issues that will definitely weigh in the balance at the critical time.
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Between now and the general election in 2019 the next task at hand is to inform and reassure the people on a number of issues that (will) impact their lives very heavily and where the national interest really comes to the fore. We will take a look at a few of them.
We can start with the flagship project on which the government is pinning its hope for a triumphal return to power. It must not take things for granted and address the concerns that are being heard at ground level, the main one being whether it will effectively relieve traffic congestion which has reached intolerable proportions, practically at all times of the day in the principal cities and roads. Not enough assurance has been given on this score, nor about the debt burden on the future generations. The more so given that in the past leaders of the present government, then sitting on opposition benches, had bitterly condemned this project as being unsustainable, and so cogent and plausible explanations are in order as to the reason(s) for the change of mind.
The next major concern of the people is the situation at the CWA: what is it going to be, strategic partnership or privatization. The laconic replies of Hon Ivan Collendavelloo in Parliament are not going to suffice as explanation on the announced decision to go private. More details in terms of what exactly this project entails will have to be made available to the public so that they can have a clear idea of what are the implications, especially in terms of costs for the taxpayer overall and the increased charges that are in the pipeline for the individual customer.
The shrinking space of public beaches for the common man is meeting the silence of the authorities as to what they propose for the people in the long term, especially as we have the ambition of touching up to 4 million tourist arrivals annually. Is there any plan for an alternative approach to this issue to spare Mauritians from becoming strangers in their own country?
And we haven’t heard anything at all about the growing inequality gap and the measures that are proposed to narrow it so as to give a better life to so many others that are still struggling to go up the social scale, surely a legitimate aspiration? Business Mauritius is advocating to bring the corporate tax to 3% from its present, already very low 15%. Some economists have opined that it is time to revisit upwards rather than downwards, with a return to progressive taxation. In any case nothing remains static and if the context demands such a change then there is no reason why it should not be seriously considered.
It is hoped therefore that the next budget will, instead of giving in to lobbies, announce measures that will go in the direction of relieving the burden of the middle class and those below it who are the bones and sinews of the economy. Such measures stand a better chance of getting the people’s approval than dancing around PR to secure personal gains. Let national interest override all other mean considerations. This will be the true win-win formula.
* Published in print edition on 11 May 2018